Who represents the real victims?

The Madison County Record Sep. 9, 2004, 5:53pm

Madison County's vaunted 'Asbestos Docket' is a sight to see on paper-- 180+ pages as it is. But its not much in person.

Judge Judy is more compelling on a bad day.

That's because so many of the 1500+ plaintiffs here in Madison County Court suing old industrial companies for exposing them to that once-popular, fire-preventing fiber, aren't actually sick.

And sick is hard to miss, when you're talking major asbestos exposure. It means lung-choking particles that stiffen the organs and make breathing difficult if not impossible.

But drop by the courthouse to watch asbestos in action and you won't hear a raspy-voiced blue-collar workers delivering gut-wrenching testimony. No tearful families sitting in the gallery. Just fancy suits and lots of legal maneuvering.

Those suits and their clients epitomize a fast-growing, millionaire lawyer-making asbestos trend whereby plaintiffs sue for possible future illnesses, rather than actual current ones.

The plain reality is that many if not most of the plaintiffs listed on Madison County's Asbestos Docket-- each asking for thousands or millions in damages-- are perfectly healthy.

The lawyers' theory is that these would-be victims had better sue now because everyone else is. And someday, if these plaintiffs do indeed get sick, the company allegedly responsible might already be bankrupt (from their lawsuits, that is) and would be unable to pay.

Can you say 'self-fulfilling prophecy'?

Ignoring the destructive precedents that could follow such wacky legal logic, we cannot keep from wondering what will eventually happen to the actual victims of asbestos.

The lawyers and their would-be victims are getting theirs today. Will there be anything left for the late to the game but cancer-stricken five or ten years from now?

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